What Is It? Genre Part II

Hopefully you enjoyed What Is It? Genre Part I, it’s now time to delve a little deeper.

Let’s take a look at the differences between: biography, autobiography and memoir? Often confusing, are they all the same?

A biography is the life story of a person written by someone else.

An autobiography is the life story of a person written by themselves.

A memoir is a collection of memories from a person’s life, told in the first person. It’s different from an autobiography, because it does not tell the entire life story.

Now that we’ve got that straight, what is the difference between an authorised or unauthorised biography?  An authorised biography is a biography written about a person with the subject or family’s permission.

An unauthorised biography is just that.  A biography that has no approval from the subject, which naturally means the subject has not contributed information or personal material to the biography.  A well known unauthorised biography is Oprah: A Biography by Kitty Kelley.

Just when you thought that was the end, I bring you fictional autobiography.  Essentially, it’s when an author creates a fictional character and writes a book as if it were a first person autobiography.  Sound confusing? A popular example of a fictional autobiography is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. This also brings us to the controversy of autobiographical fiction.  This is when an author will write a book and claim it is their autobiography, although it contains falsehoods and may not be true at all.  A great example of this is A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, originally sold as a memoir but later found to contain much fiction.

Many readers will suspend disbelief in order to enjoy a good fantasy or fairytale, but if an autobiography is found to contain false claims or fiction, is it any less enjoyable?  I like to know what I’m reading beforehand and resent it if I find out later that a book was not all I thought it was.  What about you?

Let’s look at a few more genres before I close off this What Is It? article on genre.

The Hunter by Julia Leigh is an example of Tasmanian gothic literature

Gothic literature is very popular and includes such novels as Dracula by Bram Stoker and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.  Gothic novels contain some of the following elements: horror, secrets, romance, madness, death, ghosts, supernatural and gothic architecture including haunted houses and castles.  Characters in a gothic novel will often include: women in distress, tyrannical males, maniacs, heroes, magicians, angels, ghosts and much more.

Gothic horror or gothic literature is a great genre, but what about Tasmanian gothic literature?  Yes, you read right, there are a number of novels now classified as Tasmanian gothic literature and if this tickles your fancy, you may want to check some of them out: The Roving Party by Rohan WilsonThe Hunter by Julia Leigh and Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan.

Whatever your reading tastes may be, you are bound to enjoy some genres more than others and at some point in your reading life, continue to read from your favourites.  Just remember to keep exploring and venturing into new reading territories because you never know what you’ll find.

What Is It? Genre, Part I

In this What Is It? article we’re going to take a look at genre.  Identifying a genre of books you love can be exciting and rewarding, but readers can become lost in the terminology; so let’s look at the very basics of genre.

Fiction & Non Fiction
All books can be separated into either fiction or non fiction.  Fiction books contain stories that are ‘made up’ whereas non fiction books contain information that is factual.  A novel is the same as a book, but not all books are novels, so what’s the difference?  A novel contains ‘fictitious prose’ which means a non fiction book will never be a novel (because it’s not fictitious).

From there, there are literally thousands of genres that fall under the headings of fiction or non fiction.  An easy way to think of genre is by considering the categories of shelves (or sections) in a bookshop.

Fiction shelves in a bookshop will house crime, romance and fantasy novels.  Each of these categories is a genre.

Non Fiction shelves will usually include: travel, art and history books, and each of these is a genre.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the fiction genres that may be new to you.  Most readers will recognise science fiction, horror, YA (Young Adult), classic and short story genres, but what about these:

Cozy mystery: a murder mystery without violence, usually featuring an amateur sleuth.

Farm lit & rural romance: romance novels that take place in the outback or towns in rural areas.  (Australian authors of note in this genre include: Nicole Alexander, Loretta HillRachael Johns, Fiona McCallum and Rachael Treasure).

Historical fiction: a story that takes place in an historical setting and which can include fictional accounts of famous people from history.  Popular historical fiction books from Australian authors include: The Secret River by Kate Grenville, Maralinga by Judy Nunn and Cloudstreet by Tim Winton.

Urban fantasy: a book with supernatural themes (such as magic, werewolves, witches, vampires) that take place in a real-world setting, hence ‘urban.’  In other words, the setting is not a make-believe world.WordItOut-word-cloud-441198

Let’s take a closer look at some of the genres within non fiction that you may not have explored.

For Dummies: the yellow and black instructional manuals tackle every topic under the sun in an easy-to-read and understand format.

Literary criticism: essentially the study of literature, or other books. Authors and works are subtly and overtly analysed and interpreted resulting in positive and negative criticism of existing works.  If you are reading (or have read) a great classic and want to know more about it, then the literary criticism genre is a great resource.

Survival: books detailing the survival of individuals from tragedy, natural disaster or crime can be inspirational and informative.  An Australian survival book that comes to mind is Everything To Live For by Turia Pitt.  An international bestseller is I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai.

Travelogue or travel writing: the author informs the reader about their travel experiences.  Travel writing (and TV shows) continue to increase in popularity and give the reader the opportunity to experience travel and adventure from the safety of their armchair.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to genre.  Stay tuned for the next instalment in the series, What Is It? Genre Part II.  In the meantime, please leave a comment below and let us know what genre is your favourite.  Mine is historical fiction.

Turns a Popular Genre Completely on it’s Head

9780356502847Review – The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

What a book to kick off 2014! This book totally blew me away from the first page. It is definitely one of those books where the less you know about it the more you are going to enjoy it. So I am going to break my review into two parts: Spoiler free and Spoilerific.

What makes genre fiction so popular is the rules and lore past writers have created and passed on. Readers get to know and appreciate all the tropes, major and minor, and new writers get to play around with these rules, bending, braking, changing them as they see fit. Sometimes these changes don’t work or go too far but every now and again somebody changes a genre completely. Which is what M.R. Carey has done in The Girl With All The Gifts. He has taken a popular genre and turned it completely on it’s head. In doing so he not only breathes in fresh air but he has brought a whole new perspective to a very familiar scenario.

The book opens with 10-year-old Melanie. She is sitting in a cell waiting for the Sergeant who is going to strap her to a wheelchair and take her, under guard, to her classroom where she will learn about the world with the other children. Something has happen to the outside world and Melanie and her classmates might be humanity’s only hope.

If you loved The Passage you will love this even more, grab a copy now. If you want to know a bit more (spoiler warning) scroll a bit further down

SPOILER ALERT [you have been warned]

This a cross between The Passage, The Walking Dead and 28 Days/Weeks/Months/Years Later. Not only does M.R. Carey (Mike Carey) completely flip the zombie genre but he also brings more humanity to the genre than anyone else I can think of. Set in England, it has been 20 years since the ‘Breakdown’ which has nearly wiped humanity out (you know the drill). ‘Hungries’ roam the countryside and control the cities.

Scientists have been trying to figure out what has caused the infection, if it even is an infection, with no luck. But ten children seem to hold the answer. They aren’t like the other hungries: mindless, feeding machines. They are cognitive. However when they get the scent of food, in particular humans, their infected natures come to the surface. These children are part of a last ditch study to try and find a vaccine or even antidote.

The book is told mainly from Melanie’s perspective and she captures and breaks your heart in equal measure. The strength of Carey’s writing is in his characters and as we get to know the people around Melanie; her teacher, the Sergeant, the doctor in charge; we (and they) learn about what it truly means to be human. At the same time Carey keeps the story moving at a perfect pace. Not only are the the hordes of hungries an ever present threat but feral humans known as ‘junkers’ also put the vital research being done at risk. But the biggest threat is time itself which is running out.

The other part I really loved about the book is the science behind the hungries. Zombie stories have toyed with many different explanations, mainly virus or bacteria infection spread through blood or saliva (see biting). Nearly all zombie explanations rely to some extent on either a supernatural element or a slight (or major) suspension of scientific belief. Carey takes a different tack and uses elements already present in nature, namely fungi. The way this scientific element is woven into the story is the icing on an already incredible the cake.

Buy the book here…